Sunday, March 29, 2020

Brian Beatty On William Carlos Williams

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

I wouldn’t write at all if it weren’t for myriad writers before me whose works showed me what was possible. The poems of this series are small offerings of respect, of thanks, to those muses. – Brian Beatty

William Carlos Williams

There were no white chickens the night 
I followed my muse out into that lightning storm.

And the wheelbarrow hunched in prayer against the side 
of the house was red due to rust.

– Brian Beatty


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Learn more about William Carlos Williams:






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click here for more on this book
click for more on this book
NEW! Read the entire series of Borrowed Trouble by Brian Beatty anywhere you go by buying the collection of all sixty poems today! You've enjoyed these poetic tributes on-line, now enjoy them everywhere!


Brian's recent collections of poetry are Dust and Stars: Miniatures and Brazil, Indiana


Don't miss Brian's columns on great poets: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Tobi Alfier - Last Week’s Promise


Already last week seems like a year ago. Things have changed fast - for all of us. I’m aware of everything going on around us, and so are you. I’m going to leave this blog as it always is—about writing. There’s plenty of other information elsewhere.

Last week I said “Stay tuned next week, when I introduce you to a man who writes mostly fiction, but just came out with his first book of poetry in years, is a voracious reader, and a huge inspiration to both Jeff and I.”

On that note, I’d like to introduce you to Frank Reardon. Frank is a Facebook friend as well as a personal inspiration. Jeff and Rich are my trusted readers. Frank is Jeff’s trusted book critic. He’s my trusted poetry and fiction inspiration.

Frank Reardon
Jeff says “What attracts me to Frank’s literary interests is his appreciation for well-written gritty stories, not simply excellent story-telling by the authors, but the poetic strength of their writing that gives me a redoubled appreciation for the novels Frank recommends. When he posts a book recommendation on Facebook, I almost always check the book out myself and see if I can read a few paragraphs online with the Amazon reader feature.”

Needless to say, we have a lot of poetry and fiction in our house. I’m sure all delivery services have our address on “replay”…Every time we open the door there’s a bunch of “stuff”. Just the way we like it.

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Frank is a 99% fiction writer, but every once in awhile the extra 1% sneaks in. He just published his first book of poetry in years, “Loud Love on the Sevens and Elevens.” 76 pages of working-class poetry, dedicated to “those of you who punch the clock, work the line, and roll the dice.”  Full disclosure, this book was published by Blue Horse Press, i.e., Jeff and I. But Jeff doesn’t just publish books for friends, just like Rich doesn’t; these poems are stunning gut-punches of poems. And God bless these people, who may not be working at all in these troubled times.

Something about the way Frank writes and writes about his own jobs inspires me to write poetry and fiction over and over. I’ve talked about this before—how I’ll be smack in the middle of reading something and I have to put it down and go write? I don’t question it. I’m grateful for the inspiration!

One of my butcher-inspired poems played a huge part in my "Landlady" series, and therefore in “Slices of Alice & Other CharacterStudies” published by Cholla Needles Press.

Landlady #1

It’s a particular shade of pink
carbon dated with years
of stale coffee and cigarette smoke.
It’s a pink that invites shuffling,
television in the background
and old ledgers on the plastic-covered
kitchen table.

Somewhere in the blue sequins
of the flickering across her eyes
she hates her reduction to light bulbs
and plungers, and “you’re two
days late, when am I going
to get my check?”  It sounds
like the old days.

It sounds like women she hears
on the bus, and she was one
of them once. Christ,
three kids and a cell phone
but no money for milk.
The butcher saves bones
for her watery soup. How does
a life become so small?

23 one-bedrooms stacked
like empty blocks and hers,
number 24, vacant
as a ghost ship in moonlight.
Nothing but the crossword
and furled calendar
to keep her counsel, her hands
dusted with time and words.

(previously published in Loch Raven Review)

It may seem the butcher played a small part in this, but actually, it melded right into stories my grandmother told me about her life after my grandfather passed. We all know there’s at least a tiny bit of truth in most poetry—this is a perfect example.

I’ll spare you my completely made-up 960- word piece of short fiction about a butcher whose girlfriend was a vegetarian. That piece I 100% could NOT have written without Frank’s inspiration.

Trusted readers are people who help us with our own work. This could include suggestions about all kinds of things, from title changes, to words that are just stepping on the verge of being clichés, to dropping that last stanza—the one you had to write but shouldn’t publish. Trusted readers don’t have to write like we do, they just have to have good eyes, and not be offended when we only take 80% of their suggestions. But anything they point out is probably a place you need to consider. Either re-write it, drop-kick it, or leave it as is. It’s your work.

Trusted critics are like human versions of the Amazon reviews I’m always reminding you to write. If you have similar tastes in words, music, movies and beloved Amazon crime dramas, they are a goldmine of helpful information. They are a walking “wishlist”. Treasure them.

Trusted inspirations? I personally can’t explain what triggers me, but I’m so thankful that I have those people and those moments in my life. I hope you do too.

Dear Readers, things I’ve learned from Facebook posts this week are along with everything else, make sure you have enough coffee, kitty litter, and enough chocolate. The jury’s out on Spam. My mom says to rinse your mouth several times a day with an antibacterial wash, and yes, gin counts.

Take good care. Be safe and write well. Artists—make sure you have tons of supplies. If you’re going to participate in any online open mics, practice reading out loud. Look up, and as FrancEye once told me, “E-nunc-i-ate!” xo


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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


Greg Gilbert - Shelter in Place with Books






Because many of us are in the hunt for good reads, I’m offering mini-reviews for your consideration. While not listed in any particular order, these are books that I recommend. Shelter in place with books!




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Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Science Fiction 368 pages. Short stories of varying length. Intelligent, original considerations of time travel, free will, and fate. The stories are nearly devoid of rising action but are thoughtfully developed, nuanced, and offer depths of thinking that, for me, break new ground. One story, “The Great Silence,” posits that Puerto Rican parrots offer us a beautiful opportunity for interspecies communication. Exhalation recalls works by Borges and Calvino.




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A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. Historical Fiction 289 pages. Begins in Spain, 1938, with the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, prison camps, and follows refugees who flee to France and evacuate to Chile. The book brings us into contact with Pinochet, Salvador Allende, the poet Neruda, and provides the epic story of a long life. It offers treatises on growing old, being in love, political intrigue, and personal sacrifice. While slightly facile –as a Kirkus Review says—it offers a historical study that is informative, engaging, and solid.



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The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali. Historical Fiction 265 pages. This is a romantic story and so much more. Within this small book, the reader experiences the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh by the U.S. backed Shah while following the lives of two star crossed lovers. The story contrasts American culture with Persian and centers on the depth of one’s culture and how impermanent it can be. This too is a story of how America’s cinematic image is largely a thin facade over a more facile reality.  The narration telegraphs what is coming without giving too much away and offers an artful dance as it curls back onto itself to bring past events forward. The only flaw, for my taste, is an overarching romantic sentimentality that simultaneously rings true for any reader who has experienced a lost love and is slightly too saccharine for any reader who appreciates the depth of an enduring relationship. This is also a book that demonstrates how political passions can overwhelm reason and be co-opted by manipulative powerbrokers. The setting of a stationary shop at the center of the novel is a synecdoche for a resilient love of reading, writing, and culture – as well as a frame for a human frailty that, to borrow from Dylan Thomas, is like “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

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A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Historical Fiction 409 pages. This book is framed by the bombing of London and the RAF bombing raids on one end and the ultimate tale of one long life. The narrative moves forward and backward in time, says what will happen while referencing the past, so that the complexity of this retrospective is as interwoven as life itself. This is a unique plot device in the hands of a master. Characters are complex and thoroughly revealed through their actions. There is minimal plot in terms of mystery and resolution but lives are lived, particularly the central character, Teddy. One is content to follow the in’s and out’s of authentically drawn individuals. I read everything by Atkinson. She is a writer’s writer.

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The Face: A Time Code by Ruth Ozeki. Zen meditation 86 pages. Ozeki provides an intimate three hour meditation while viewing herself in a mirror. Her features are described in terms of physicality, personal history, cultural considerations, ancestry, fears and vanities, and accented by lessons on Zen, Noh acting, mask making, the three marks of existence found in Wabi-sabi (suffering, impermanence, and no-self) and the bringing of life to the mask, yūgen. Ozeki’s work is personal and describes her exploration of self and no-self. While her writing is not didactic or vain, it provides an example of a very human quest for enlightenment that uses the mask of self as a means of seeing beyond the mask. This is a beautiful little book. Her fictions rank among my favorite novels.

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An additional recommendation not reviewed here is Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. The third installment, The Mirror & the Light (784 pages) just came out, and I am devouring it, as I did the first two. It is no exaggeration to say that Mantel is a brilliant writer. LA Times book reviewer Mary Ann Gwinn writes that this installment is as good as the first two and is “a masterpiece.” The other books in this trilogy are Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies




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Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Open Reading - March 15th Virus Update at Space Cowboy Books In Joshua Tree!

Romaine and Allyson have been rescheduled for May - keep watch here. In the meantime, our reading has changed to an open reading, with a simple caveat - be smart. If you feel sick or find yourself in the "at-risk" group, please stay home. If you have been hanging out with folks who traveled overseas the past week, please stay home. Otherwise, come and bring some cool material to read - either your own, or someone who is inspiring you these days. Remember all the health advice you've heard a million times this week come have fun. We do NOT mind if you decide to sit six feet from someone else =:-)




Rescheduled for May:


The open reading will be held on the stage behind the store. Bring something of your own to read or a passage that inspires you. Prose is limited to two minutes. You're also welcome to simply come and listen to your neighbors. We invite the entire community to come in, share, and simply have a good time! All ages invited, and every event is free! See you there =:-) 


We are celebrating the release of Cholla Needles 39, as well as two great books by Romaine Washington, and Allyson Jeffredo!!! Please feel welcome and be inspired by their presentations. 

Come enjoy the love!

Tobi Alfier - What Would You Do With $99 Per Month?


In the classifieds at the back of Poets & Writers are ads for people and companies who will submit your writing for you. My questions for you are: 1 – Why do you write? And 2 – Why do you submit your writing?

I have said this a hundred times—if you write, you are a writer. You may write just for yourself. You may write an annual Christmas letter to include with your cards (I have a note about that which follows). You may fill up journals that you buy from Cholla Needles for $3.75, stick them in your pocket and go (I have a note about that too). No one should be keeping score, and shame on them if they are.

click
Note #1 – Do you know about “The USPS Store”? It’s the Postal Store, where you can buy stamps online. What’s cool about this website is they have wonderful stamps of all denominations, so you don’t just have to buy the one or two varieties they have at the local post office or market. And they currently have lots of “Love” stamps, “Christmas” stamps, and many other holiday and special stamps. What you can do is take ONE of your letters, cards, books, etc. to the post office and get it weighed. Then buy the appropriate stamps online for mailing at your convenience. You won’t have to wait in line at the post office again. Even if you just get regular stamps for bills and such, you can get nice ones. I bought some Mississippi Blues stamps that reminded us of our fabulous trip on the Blues Trail. They charge only $1.00 for sending your entire order, and come within five to seven days. This may seem silly, but it makes me happy to use pretty or memorable stamps. I wanted to share this with you.

If you’re mailing overseas, postage has gone up immensely over the last few years, and you’ll probably need customs forms. Grab a handful of forms when you get that one overseas letter weighed, then keep them at home. Again, you won’t have to wait in line at the post office. Do everything at home and drive through a mailbox, then go to the Farmer’s Market or do something else fun instead. Bake cookies 😊. (Postage is different for different countries, FYI).

Note #2 – My husband is a journal writer. He never goes anywhere without a notebook in his back pocket, and probably has fifty he’s completed over the years. He refers to the old ones often, and plans to put them in order on a special shelf in his office. He’s one of those lucky people who can find an entry and remember exactly when it was written. I can’t. My advice to you is when you start a new notebook or journal, date the first page. Don’t date the cover in case it comes off. The pages never tear out, unless you tear them out on purpose.

If you love Cholla Needles journals, buy a few and always use them, just date them! You will thank me five years from now!

Back to the $99 per month:

As I mentioned above, some people or businesses will submit your writing for you for $99 per month. I don’t know if you pay by the month or if you sign up for a year or more. I don’t know if they edit (I don’t think they do), keep track of themes, window openings and closures, or aesthetics. I don’t know what a writer gets out of this except they don’t have to do the submissions, and maybe they’re only told about acceptances, not rejections.

As a submitting writer I will admit that sometimes submissions can be a pain, particularly if they’re not done electronically, It takes time to look up a journal, see if their aesthetics match with your style, see if they have a theme, if they’re a blind reading, and if they’re even open.

Then there’s the cover letter. Who do you address it to? Did you spell the name of the editor correctly? Did you spell the name of the journal right? Did you attach the correct number of poems or fiction pieces? Is your bio no longer than 50 words? And so on and so on.

I can tell you that as a co-editor, we do forgive errors in our submission guidelines, as long as the submissions are during the window periods. We all make mistakes.

When I was working, I was the Director of our consulting practice. My arms were also wrapped around sales and marketing. I had the privilege of working with Doug Quackenbush, a wonderful business coach, who taught me that companies don’t sell services to people, people buy them. So just because I don’t understand why a writer would use a company to do submissions on their behalf, if the companies exist, there must be a reason. I don’t know everything and I’ll be the first to admit it.
reading The Shadow Field

Just for fun, I asked Jeff and my son what they would do if they had a discretionary $99/month.

Jeff said “buy books”. My feeling is that he served our country for 28 years. He deserves to buy all the books, hats, t-shirts, photography equipment, programs, and writing trips he wants. He earned it. (soos insert: I highly recommend buying Jeff's new book, The Shadow Field). 

My son said “Eat breakfast more often, tip an extra dollar, and chip away at my book wishlist.”

What would I do? No, I would not buy candy!!! I would make a lot more donations than I currently do. I have plenty of books from the ones Jeff buys, so I would donate to journals I respect. I would donate to writers I respect. Cholla Needles Press is never going to charge submission fees. Neither is Blue Horse Press, publisher of San Pedro River Review. But there are 23,000 other journals out there. Some charge not only $3-$10 for journal submissions, but $20-$30 for chapbook and full-length manuscript submissions. I love and appreciate lots of writers who can’t pay those fees. It’s not my business to ask why, but if I can help, that’s what I would do (thank you PayPal). Then I would buy candy with the leftovers!!!

What would you do? This is only a rhetorical question if you want it to be. Otherwise I’d love to read your comments below.

Stay tuned next week, when I introduce you to a man who writes mostly fiction, but just came out with his first book of poetry in years, is a voracious reader, and a huge inspiration to both Jeff and I. Be safe, write well. Mix beautiful colors, enjoy the rain if it comes your way. xo.

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


Brian Beatty on Philip Levine

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to Philip Levine (1928-2015)

I wouldn’t write at all if it weren’t for myriad writers before me whose works showed me what was possible. The poems of this series are small offerings of respect, of thanks, to those muses. – Brian Beatty

Philip Levine

My late grandmother 
believed in her Bible as well 
as all the old superstitions.
Rocking an empty rocking chair, 
for instance, invited death 
or something worse into your home. 
From her cold senior citizen apartment 
up on the fourth floor to escape 
the fires of Hell she sent money 
she couldn’t spare to her favorite 
call-in radio evangelists. 
When you visited, you prayed 
and watched whatever show was playing 
on her tiny black-and-white TV.

– Brian Beatty


click for more info



Learn more about Philip Levine:







- - - -


click here for more on this book
click for more on this book
NEW! Read the entire series of Borrowed Trouble by Brian Beatty anywhere you go by buying the collection of all sixty poems today! You've enjoyed these poetic tributes on-line, now enjoy them everywhere!


Brian's recent collections of poetry are Dust and Stars: Miniatures and Brazil, Indiana


Don't miss Brian's columns on great poets: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Tobi Alfier - There are Reviews, and there are REVIEWS….


You don’t have to be a social media addict to know that every day someone posts information about their new book. They may be friends of yours, or writers you like. They may be your publisher on your behalf.

Here’s the question: do reviews sell books? Who knows? Sometimes I buy books to support a friend I may only know on Facebook. Sometimes I buy books because I love the author. I do read reviews but they don’t necessarily make my decision for me. Sometimes they do.

I’m not talking about “official” book reviews published in journals, I’m talking about the “from the heart” reviews on Amazon, when someone finishes a book and can’t wait to tell everyone about it. These are easy to write and can be done quickly. As I’ve said before, please support your local independent bookstores, but if you’ve ever bought anything on Amazon, you are a customer and can write a review.

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You all know my friend Susan Tepper, whose novel “What Drives Men” came out last year. Susan is brilliant about asking people to put reviews on Amazon. She’d read “that after 35 you get pushed up somehow on the Amazon chain and they will do certain things.  For instance, my novel was run as a sponsored ad on Facebook a lot, and ran for several weeks. I can only assume it had to do with the # of reviews”.

We may complain about the ads in our Facebook newsfeeds, but don’t you find it amazing that something you were looking at on Amazon shows up on Facebook that same day? And I do look at them, I admit. I think it’s a fact of life, so let’s do what Susan does and use it to our advantage.

Reviews can be short, or they can be long. My review of “What Drives Men” said:

“Susan Tepper is a skilled and masterful magician. I could not get “What Drives Men” out of my head, the equivalent of not being able to look away. While diverting our attention with a mad and crazy journey in a borrowed car, with “borrowed” kids, weather, waterfalls, and geography, she slowly, quietly, out of our sight, builds a beauteous redemption for a man who could previously only keep guppies. It took me a few days to “get it”, but I loved thinking about it and I will continue to do so for a long time.”

This was actually very short, even though it looks long here. Other reviews were much longer, but I said what I wanted to say.

Simon Perchik’s book “The Gibson Poems”, published by Cholla Needles, has five reviews. One review says:

“Even if you have read many of Simon Perchik’s poems in other collections, you will find much that is new and fresh here. You will think you are reading about something familiar and a surprising insight will reward you. This book simply adds more beauty and insight to often everyday subjects. You’ll be glad you didn’t pass this one up!”

Now that didn’t take long to write. Simon writes beautiful poetry every single day and people should know about him.

This is not an ego thing. This isn’t like looking yourself up on Google. This is looking to see who read your book, who took their time to write a review, and what they thought of it. I must confess I often forget to write reviews. I also forget to read my own. There is something so humbly gratifying to know that not only did someone pay money for something of yours, but they took the time to let other people know. Bless them.

You probably know that Cholla Needles published my “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” the end of 2018. This is a book that my mom bugged me for ages to publish. Rich said “your mom is right”. Really? I thought it was such a departure for me as a writer, it was hugely important to know what people thought. Holy cow, there are four reviews! And they’re good! Showing once again that moms and publishers know best.

The Hard Part – What if You Don’t Like a Book?

Remember, this is not a commissioned review for a journal, this is a voluntary review on Amazon. It’s not anonymous; some people put their full names and others don’t. Mine are written as TA, mostly because I feel what I’m writing is not about me.

All writings are reviewed by Amazon staff before they’re posted, and mean writings aren’t approved. But if you’ve just spent hard-earned money on something you didn’t care for, you are allowed to say.

As the chicken in our family, I admit that I probably would not say anything at all. I probably would not buy another book by that author and move on.

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I asked Jeff what he does. He’s more articulate than I am and he’s written more reviews than I have. He’s a brilliant writer who stands well on his own, and has no reason to take anyone off at the knees. If he doesn’t care for a book there’s a reason. He says don’t get personal when describing the writing in total, a specific piece, or the author.

Jeff also says to offer the readers an alternative. For example, if a book is about a particular subject, and you find the writing flat, or lacking in something, suggest other books or authors you think tackle the subject in a more satisfying way. This can be done gently, always keeping in mind this is not about you. This is about people spending their discretionary income, who are looking for opinions.

Back to Positives:

  1. Susan Tepper has a new chapbook out – “Confess” from Cervena Barva Press.
Described as “elegiac and lyrical”, it has a lovely, welcoming, wonderful cover. Take a look. Please be sure to add a review once you’ve read it.

  1. Simon Perchik is just back from a warm weather vacation in Costa Rica. He said he wrote every day. Keep your eyes open for Simon’s poetry written in Costa Rica in the upcoming May Cholla Needles issue. I know there are Young Writers And Artists and Poetry Month - Local Writers issues coming up, as well as the brand new March Issue #39. And Dave Maresh's The Future is Out To Get You. And I’ll bet money that somewhere in between those newest poetic joys you’ll find Simon. Cholla Needles has recently put into book form "The D Poems" which was previously only available only in e-book form. Simon's latest book is "The Rosenblum Poems."

  1. Jeff Alfier has a new book out – “The Shadow Field” from Louisiana Literature Press.
Described as “a decidedly impressionistic collection about revisiting old roads and the wanderings of an elegiac kind”, the gorgeous cover photo was taken by Jeff. Take a look. Please add a review once you’ve read it.

  1. I don’t know everything going on so I’ve only included information about the people I talk about above. If you have a new chapbook or book just out, please add it to the comments below. Likewise successes with art. I check for comments all the time and I will publish the information. Writing and art is hard work. I know one of our fiber artists sold a piece before a show even opened. I know one of our artists has two years of commitments /commissions on her plate. Everyone deserves to be congratulated. 

Have the very best week. I heard it may rain. Stay safe xo





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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.